That Summer
by cgb

He blamed it on the cold air that blew in from the bay hinting of Autumn. He blamed it on the boathouse, the finality of carrying Elena's books away from the place she had last opened them. To all things an end and in a rare moment of optimism he had hoped for a new beginning.

"I used to dream of this," she told him as they looked out across the bay. She was already in long sleeves - a thin knitted pullover that didn't look warm enough. "I dreamt of somewhere like this."

"Pearl Bay? You have strange dreams, Laura Gibson."

"You were born here - you don't appreciate it like I do."

He did. He didn't say so often but there were nights in Tel Aviv or Kosovo or Capetown or wherever the hell he was that he truly believed he'd lost paradise. Wasn't that what he'd told a young merchant sailor in Sarajevo? Dan was looking for a home and Max just happened to have one.

He appreciated it then. He appreciated it with her and them and all their memories leading up to that moment.

He kissed her. He kissed her because he thought it was time. Later he remembered he'd always had lousy timing. It made him a great war correspondent. No matter how he tried to avoid it he always seemed to be where the bombs were going off. Dan said he either had a calling or someone was trying to kill him. Dan knew how to put things in perspective.

And it was all wrong, of course, and there was no poetry to everything that happened afterward - nothing he could write in a novel or in verse. He wondered when he'd started to believe and he knows it was that day in the Court House when Meredith had fired a gun outside, and the Summer had started with a siege. The wind was cold across the bay now. The Summer was finally over.


January turned into February leaving him to wonder where the days went. He slept in most mornings, preferring to stay up late and go about his business in the cool night air.

Carmen nagged him about the paper. "We need a regular edition, Max. How can we get advertisers when our distribution is so sporadic?"

"Advertisers? How very entrepreneurial of you, Lois. Quite the capitalist you are."

Carmen rolled her eyes. He was beginning to admire the way she took him with good humour.

He started writing the columns then - meandering pieces about the Bay and its curious inhabitants. It was a love story in its own strange way, because it was Laura who suggested he turn his talent to something close to home. She would have been pleased to know she was right.

The anniversary of his wife's death came and went and the incessant inquiries about his wellbeing weren't unbearable this time.

Laura brought him a casserole and somehow it was just the right thing to do.

"I was so pleased when she came here," she told him. "I thought I'd finally found someone I could talk to."

"You couldnít talk to Diver?"

"It was different."

"Of course." He smiles. On this day, of all days, he smiles.

"She would have been proud of you," she says. And he doesn't know how to answer because she's right again and that makes three for three.

There's meaning in all this and Elena probably knew what it was which is why she left Laura that note.

There had to be a time, he knew that, but he wanted something more than a date on a calendar to know when his period of mourning was over. He wanted a sign and he wasn't the kind of person to notice when he received one so he wondered whether this was the limbo he was destined for. For a person who didn't believe in answers he spent a lot of time looking for them.

But if this was all anything amounted to then, he had to admit, he could live like this.

She swirls her wine in her glass and looks at him with a furrowed brow. One day, he thinks, she'll figure him out.


He woke up from a dream about his high school Maths teacher. He woke up quickly, his hearing on full alert, listening for the sound of missiles - gunfire. And then he noticed the dark, rotting wood of the boathouse, heard the sea lapping against the boats tied to the jetty and he let out his breath in one great puff, pushing it from his lungs as though it refused to leave. He woke from dreams like this.

His high school Maths teacher was called Miss Swenson because in those days they still called women "Miss". She was short and blonde but in the dream her hair was darker and he knew that Laura Gibson was starting to infiltrate his dreams.

Which shouldn't have surprised him - but it did.

He took his swim earlier that morning and he was heading home to the boathouse by the time she arrived.

"You're done early today," she said.

"I couldn't sleep," he said.

"Must be the heat." She passed him a mug of tea and her fingers brushed his as he took it from her.


"You carried me out of the pub?" It was his third coffee for the morning. On days like this he thanked god for Dan and, more importantly, Dan's coffee machine.

Laura sipped a short black. "Well Angus helped. I could hardly have done it on my own."

"Did I... did I say anything? To anyone?" He loaded the 'anyone' but they both knew who he meant.

"You were comatose, Max. We had to check your breathing to see if you were still alive. Especially after we banged your head on the boatshed steps."

He rubbed his still sore head. He had blamed it on the alcohol. "Ah."


"Don't be. I hope I didn't ruin your evening."

"Not at all. In fact it was rather timely. You passed out just as the kissing started. I got to wave everyone off and attend to your needs."


"Griff, Simmo, Bucket..."

He laughed. It made his head hurt but he laughed anyway. "Laura Gibson - the prize catch of Pearl Bay."

"Shut up, Max." She took another sip of her coffee.

He emptied another packet of beans into the grinder. The sun was less scorching today. A balmy 32. It was a summer full of small mercies.


She told him she only learnt to hold her liquour in her late twenties and he laughed.

"What kind of university student were you, Laura?"

"The studious kind. I did my articles at Sachs and Mayer, remember."

He thought he would have liked to have known her then - when they were younger and less flexible. They would have argued, They argue now, but back then they would have the courage of their convictions. Now they affect each other, gradually tear away at each other's walls.

He thinks he would like to have seen her grow.


New Year, like Christmas, was celebrated at the pub. Children, the elderly, pet dogs, rabbits, and eels all congregated at the Tropicana to drink lemonade and cheap champagne and to complain about the heat. At midnight the children would run down to the beach to wave sparklers and watch the town's meagre fireworks display - it was a much anticipated event.

Between Christmas and the new year the mercury rose from 26 to 36. The town retreated indoors to escape the heat and seek air conditioned environs.

By New Years Eve everyone had cabin fever. Including Max. He was at the pub by 4 pm.

By 8 pm he was drunk and sitting in a corner next to Angus who was also drunk. He held a beer in one hand and a postcard from Karen in the other and from time to time he sobbed and pleaded with Max to tell him "why". Max patted his shoulder and insisted she would be back. She would.

At five minutes to midnight, Laura came to sit beside him. "Stay right where you are," she said.


"If Griff tries to kiss me I need you to intervene."

"Laura that's hardly in the spiriss... the spirish of New Years."

Beside him Angus giggled. "Spirish...," he echoed.

Laura frowned. "Forget it, I'll go find someone else..."

She got up to leave and he grabbed her arm. "Wait..." he said, forcing her to sit down again. "You want... you want me to kish you?"

She gave him a look that suggested she was weighing her options. "No," she said finally.

"Iíll kish you, Laura," Angus said. Max glared at him. "No - no, I won't..."

"That's very nice of you, Angus," Laura said. "But I think I'll just go to the bathroom or something..." She looked around furtively.

"Ten seconds everyone!" Meredith yelled across the bar. "Nine, Eight, seven..."

The countdown was loud, each second pounding against his ears. For a moment he felt the room tilting sideways and he struggled to maintain equilibrium. And then the room slipped again and he felt himself falling sideways. He gripped the chair hard, fighting to remain upright. He had to stay together. He had to make it to midnight because the prize at midnight was kissing Laura and he wanted this. At this moment he wanted this like he'd wanted nothing before.

And then everyone was cheering. "Happy New Year!"

Party poppers and singing erupted around him as he slid from his chair to the floor. "Happieee new yearsh, Laura," he said as the room went black.


The Summer came late that year. Christmas was cold and they wore jackets as they stood outside the pub watching Bob's enthusiastic Santa Claus terrifying the small children. Bob complained about being the town's first choice for Santa but the only other volunteer was Bucket. A tight smile from Heather and a frown from Jules and Bob was stuffing himself into the costume muttering about town spirit and his image as a public figure.

"He does that every year," Meredith said.

"Poor Bucket," said Laura. "He'll never get to play Santa as long as Bob's alive."

"Don't let anyone hear you say that, dear," Meredith said. "I don't want Bucket getting ideas..." And she was serious.

He raised his eyebrows at them both and smiled. Meredith gave him a cautioning look before returning to her place behind the bar.

Laura returned his smile with a wicked grin. "Next year we'll start a campaign," she said. She leaned her head toward Bob. "Bucket for Santa."

"You're evil, Laura Gibson," he said, and it was one more thing to like about her.  

"I'll tell you a story," she said. She was sitting on a towel in her usual spot, drinking weak tea and staring out at the ocean. The days were warmer now and they were being dragged into another relentless Summer. Soon the entire town would complain about the heat while living for the long, hot nights filled with promise. "That whole high-flying thing didn't come naturally to me - I had to fake it. I faked it for so many years I forgot that it was all an act."

He thought about this as water ran down the tendrils of his hair and dropped onto the sand forming tiny craters. "Is that it?"

"You were expecting something else?"

"A story has narrative and structure, Laura. Personal insights, are not stories."

She pushed her bare feet into the sand and shifted the granules between her toes. "Says the great novelist - how many words did you complete at the final tally?"

"Oh that's low, Laura. Kick a man when he's down."

She stuck out her lower lip in a mock pout. "Poor Max. Terminally afflicted with writer's block."

"When I'm in therapy don't think your name won't come up."

Laura was unfazed. "You know," she said. "You should write a book about this place - about Pearl Bay."

He snorted. "Great idea Laura, I might even follow Kevin on his lawn mowing rounds for a day - as research."

She smiled. She had learned to take his cynicism in good humour. She had learned this much from him at least.

"Yeah - and you know what you could call it?"

"Amaze me."

She stood up and shook off the sand. She threw her arms out in a grand gesture. "'The World is My Oyster'!"

He looked up at her, holding a hand above his eyes to shield against the morning sun. "That's a terrible title, Laura."

"You know what else a story has, Max?"


"An end - let me know if you ever get there." She turned and walked away following her usual path to the boat shed.

He stood up and headedtowards the sea. He waded in until he was up to his knees and then performed a shallow dive coming up with his legs kicking a furious rhythm. He began swimming, one arm after the other.

Maybe this was his problem. He'd had enough of endings. His mother, this town, Elena. Maybe it wasn't the right time for endings.

And besides, the Summer was just beginning.


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